When new Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente was young, he would hear bits and pieces about his great-grandfather when his dad and uncle got together. Even then, the details were a little fuzzy.
He remembers being told great-grandpa Jack was a wrestler during the Great Depression. But nobody called him Jack. He was "The Spanish Red Devil." Sometimes “Spanish Jack.”
When Fuente got a little older, he saw a yellowed picture. “He’s got no shirt on and what looks to be those old pants that you’d see on a boxer, with the drawstring on them, standing there, wiry with a mean look on his face,” Fuente says now.
The family still has a few pictures, letters from promoters, newspaper clippings and an old program or two. But many of the questions about why Jack Fuente came to the United States, how he became a wrestler and when he picked up his moniker are lost to time.
Jack never talked about his wrestling career after it ended. He died in 1957 at age 60 -- nearly 20 years before Justin was born in Oklahoma.
“As we got older, my uncle got into looking at the history of our family and obviously this was one of the stories that came about, and it became a unique identifying aspect of our family lineage,” Justin said in a recent phone interview.
Justin's Uncle Mark and Aunt Barbara set out to do a genealogy search several years ago, mostly out of curiosity. Barbara found that Jack was born Joaquin de la Fuente in 1897 in Oviedo, Spain. Around age 18, he ran away from home for unknown reasons. He stopped in Cuba first and lived with an uncle before coming into the United States.
He started in the Northeast as a boxer, and that eventually led to his brief wrestling career during the Great Depression. One photo shows Jack lifting buckets filled with concrete, which he used as weights. Others show him in a classic wrestling pose, sans shirt.
Though the family does not have a complete listing of where he wrestled -- or his record -- there are some old clippings, letters from promoters and a program that fill in a few blanks.
One newspaper clipping dated July 25, 1932, in the Prescott (Arizona) Evening Courier, describes promoter Frenchie Leavitte arranging a fight between Fuente and Jack Purdin, the “hurricane from the everglades.”
“Both of these boys have been going like houses afire. ... He is just the lad for Fuente, who wired Leavitte he'd take aboard anybody, no matter who -- that's how tough he figures he is.”
An archived website also shows Jack wrestled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, between July and September 1932, going 3-1.
A letter from promoter Jack Shore with International Amusement in Brownsville, Texas, tells Jack his partner “has mucho grande dinero so get your tights on and come on you big Peluka” to wrestle in the Rio Grande City, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico, for potentially $75 a match.
At this point, Fuente has already married and had a son, J.J. (Justin’s grandfather). By the mid-1930s, Jack stopped wrestling so he could get a full-time job working security. The family settled in Pennsylvania. That is where Justin’s father, Jim, remembers one summer in particular with Grandpa Jack.
“Mostly, I remember him trying to read me the book "Pecos Bill" with a thick Spanish accent,” Jim said. “I’m not sure I understood a word he said. But I sat there and listened to all of it anyhow. He took great joy in reading it to me.”
Mark Fuente, Justin’s uncle, was born the day Grandpa Jack died. Both Mark and Jim recall their Grandma Fuente telling them stories about their grandfather, and urging them to get into wrestling.
“I was not good,” Mark said. “She used to say, ‘Grandpa Jack would be tickled to death if you wrestled.’ I said, 'I’d rather play baseball, but I’ll try it.' None of that got passed down to me, the ability to wrestle.”
Still, both boys were curious about whether all the stories were true. Mark decided to find out. So he asked famed wrestler/promoter Leroy McGuirk. As Mark recalls, McGuirk told him he remembered The Spanish Red Devil well, and the two wrestled to a draw for the junior middleweight Midwestern Championship.
Though the topic of The Spanish Red Devil only comes up every so often, Mark and Barbara decided to honor his legacy when they started a business selling sauces and rubs. They call it “Spanish Jack’s” and use a photo of him in a wrestling pose as their logo.
Justin says one day he will tell his three daughters about their great-great grandfather, too.